Private Members' Statements - Regional Nurses and Midwives

4 May, 2021
Private Members' Statements - Regional Nurses and Midwives Image

I draw attention to our fantastic nurses and midwives. This month we will celebrate our nurses on International Nurses Day and our midwives on International Day of the Midwife, but tonight I draw the attention of the House to the ongoing pressure they are under to deliver high quality health care in the bush when our system is often working against them. Our nurses and midwives are being called upon to do more and more in our small rural facilities. As one nurse put to me, they are working at the top of their clinical scope. She said:

We're placing ourselves at risk by pushing the limit of our clinical scope. But when you're in a small facility you have no Doctor on shift or on call and the nearest major hospital is hundreds of kilometres away it comes back to you. And the people we are treating aren't strangers to us. They're people that we know and they're looking to us in their time of need.

It is through the goodwill of our local nurses that the health system has been able to function in the bush. Our local nurses have been there for communities through locum doctor after locum doctor, through periods of no doctor and through periods of an over-reliance on telehealth. They are the people who are going to tell you that you are going to be looked after. But more and more the nurses are saying that they are finding it hard to tell people that it is all going to be okay. What has become clear to me is that for too long our nurses have been forced to shoulder the burden of a barely functioning system. When the Nurses and Midwives' Association talks to its members about regional health care, staffing is the number one issue raised by members trying to deliver care in the bush. According to the Nurses and Midwives' Association, on a routine shift they are expected to care for more patients than they have capacity to attend to safely and, when emergencies arise, they are woefully unsupported.

Across the Barwon Electorate we have 27 health facilities. The majority of them are category F multipurpose services [MPSs], two are category C district hospitals and four are category D community hospitals. These categories will not mean much to people outside the health bureaucracy but they do mean a lot when it comes to nursing numbers and election commitments. In the lead-up to the 2019 election the Liberal‑Nationals Coalition and the Labor Party got involved in game of political one-upmanship on nursing numbers: Who could announce the most? Who would come up with the grander sounding number of new nurses? The Coalition came out on top, announcing an extra 5,000 nurses—an "unprecedented workforce rise". The Premier was quoted as saying:

Labor promised hundreds of nurses across NSW in its election material but the Liberals & Nationals are boosting frontline staff numbers to figures never seen before.

Premier, would you like to come out to some of the facilities in western New South Wales who struggle to cover every shift to tell them that? Would you like to visit the facilities where a cleaner had to support a stroke victim, or perhaps the hospital that had to call on the catering staff to monitor aged care patients whilst the nurses dealt with an emergency? The Premier also made the grand claim:

Patients in NSW will now have more nurses to look after them and nurses will have more colleagues to share the workload …

Every night there are nurses in my electorate working the phones trying to find other nurses to cover the night's shift. It is likely that a nurse from the day shift will stay on. That person will work between 15 and 18 hours. It is accepted by the system, but is it right? Is it in the best interest of patients? Is it placing nurse and patient safety as a high priority? No, not really.

Tonight, across a number of multipurpose services in the bush, two nurses will be responsible for an emergency department, a multiple-bed medical ward and an even bigger capacity aged care facility. If they are lucky they will have a doctor on call but it is more likely they will be relying on telehealth, where they will need to be the hands of a doctor hundreds of kilometres away. It is likely that they will struggle to get a break, even to duck to the bathroom. In the thousands of positions promised by this Liberal-Nationals Government, we are not set to receive any because the Government's new nurses have been promised to category B and C hospitals—nothing for the MPSs. This Government, through its local health districts, will continue to burn out nurses and keep saying the problem is nobody wants to go to the bush. The nurses in MPSs deserve better and so do the communities that rely on them.

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